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A Load of Lemons, Part I: Meyer Lemon Cake

More than a pound of lemons goes into this cake, along with almonds and candied ginger.

That’s what my backyard tree gifted me this winter: a load of Meyer lemons.

After last season’s dismal crop that netted me barely enough lemons to make a couple quarts of lemonade, I was overjoyed to see the bumper harvest this year from my one little dwarf tree.

When life gives you a load of lemons, you just have to use them, of course. In everything you can think of — and then some.

So, I couldn’t have been happier to spy this recipe for “Meyer Lemon Cake” in the new “The Sunset Essential Western Cookbook” (Oxmoor House), of which I received a review copy. The cookbook, by the editors of Sunset magazine, features more than 150 recipes that are so very Californian in spirit — everything from “Hangtown Fry” to “Char Siu-Glazed Pork and Pineapple Buns” to “Tagliatelle with Nettle and Pine Nut Sauce” to homemade fortune cookies.

This quite citrusy cake uses more than a pound of lemons. Most of them are pulverized — rind, pulp and all — to go into the cake batter, which contains no butter. Instead, ground almonds give it richness, along with five large eggs.

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A Lovely Lemon Cake from the Girl & the Fig

Cake so good that you'll make time to make it asap.

Meyer lemons. Rich olive oil. And heady rosemary.

All in one moist, flavorful cake that’s a California take on a Mediterranean classic.

One bite will have you transported to a white sandy beach by a crystalline blue sea.

That’s how good it is.

“Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Glaze” is from the news self-published  cookbook, “Plats du Jour” by Sondra Bernstein, proprietor of the popular Girl & the Fig restaurant in Sonoma, which serves up French country cooking with California sensibilities.

The book, of which I recently received a review copy, is full of recipes from the restaurant’s popular three-course “Plats du Jour” menu offered each Thursday evening, which incorporates the freshest seasonal ingredients. Cook a menu in its entirety or mix and match as you desire.

This simple cake couldn’t help but catch my eye, now that my backyard Meyer lemon tree is groaning with ripe fruit. You also can use Eureka lemons, too. But Meyers are less tart and more floral, making them especially wonderful to bake with.

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Saveur’s Best Damn Meyer Lemon Cake

Made with lemon juice, lemon zest and lemon extract for a super lemon-y taste.

A title like that practically challenges you to bake the darn thing, doesn’t it?

After all, you either fling yourself into it optimistically, confident that it really will be the best dang lemon cake you’ve ever sunk your teeth into or you grudgingly do it, all curmudgeon-like, waiting for that moment of  smug satisfaction to prove hoity-toity Saveur magazine wrong.

My verdict?

Since I’m not one to scarf up lemon cake after lemon cake on a regular basis, I can’t say if it’s the very best damn Meyer lemon cake I’ve ever had in my life. But I will say it really is pretty darn wonderful.

As it should be since it’s based on a recipe by baking doyenne Maida Heatter.

A simple batter enriched with milk, ground almonds and plenty of butter gets livened up with Meyer lemon zest and concentrated lemon extract. It bakes up in a loaf pan — a light-colored one works best so that the cake doesn’t overbrown. When the cake emerges from the oven, it’s doused with a warm syrup of Meyer lemon juice and sugar.

Once the glaze has soaked in, turn the cake out of the pan. The recipe doesn’t say so, but I would advise using a piece of parchment paper to do this, rather than a plate, as the now-sticky top of the cake can easily adhere to a plate and come ripping off. Once you have the loaf out of the pan, invert it right-side up on a rack to cool completely.

Then, wrap the cake in plastic wrap and wait 24 hours before eating it.

I know, I know, you have to be patient, so that the glaze melds completely with the cake.

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Meyer Lemon Biscotti

Biscotti abundant with walnuts, lemon zest and lemon juice.

When life gives you Meyer lemons, why make lemonade when you can make “Lemon-Walnut Biscotti” instead?

Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about when winter rains give way to a backyard tree full of ripe, juicy, sunshine-y lemons — finally.

Sure, you can make these crisp, crumbly cookies with regular Eureka lemons that have a sharper tang. But make them with the more floral Meyers and you’re really in for a treat. My husband’s colleagues tried some and thought for sure there was rosemary or some other herb in them. But nope, it’s just the complexity of the Meyers coming through loud and clear.

The recipe is from the hefty, new “Bon Appetit Desserts” cookbook (Andrews McMeel) by Barbara Fairchild, former editor-in-chief of that magazine who just stepped down now that the publication has moved its offices from Los Angeles to Manhattan. The 686-page tome, of which I just received a review copy, contains more than 600 recipes to keep you baking to your heart’s content.

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